Theater / Film
Nilo Cruz goes back to his childhood in Cuba with ‘A Park In Our House’
Ricky Saavedra, Grettel Trujillo, Carlos Acosta Milián and Claudia Tomás are four of the six-member cast of “A Park in Our House,” by Nilo Cruz. Arca Images presents the play in Spanish with simultaneous English translation at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium’s On.Stage Black Box Theatre opening Thursday, Nov. 9. (Photo courtesy of Alfredo Armas/Arca Images).
When Fidel Castro, against all warnings, assured in 1970 that Cuba was ready to produce 10 million tons of sugar, many Cuban families wondered if the dictator’s “revolutionary enthusiasm” was just an alibi to impose the voluntarism typical of communist regimes.
One of those families is the protagonist of “A Park in Our House,” the play by Nilo Cruz that Arca Images presents in Spanish opening on Thursday, Nov. 9 through the Sunday, Nov. 12 in the Miami-Dade County Auditorium’s On.Stage Black Box Theatre, with simultaneous translation into English.
The author, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play “Anna in the Tropics,” also directs the staging, with a cast of six actors: Grettel Trujillo, Claudia Tomás, Daniel Romero, Carlos Acosta Milián, Guillermo Lavandera and Ricky Saavedra.
“Moved by the idea that the revolution was going to change their lives for good, a Cuban family is waiting in 1970 for the visit of a Russian national who is going to live with them for a while as part of an international exchange program,” says Cruz when asked to share a synopsis. “He comes from the mecca of communism, where life is supposedly free of problems, but what they find is a disillusioned individual whose experience begins to validate the emptiness the family feels. And that changes their lives.”
Born in Matanzas, Cuba, in 1960, Cruz came with his family to Miami a year before the 10 million ton sugar harvest disaster in 1969. He studied theater with Teresa María Rojas in the Prometeo group at Miami-Dade College and later in New York with Irene Fornés.
It is the first of his plays where he addresses the Cuban issue from the perspective of someone who lives on the island.
“This company from Princeton University, McCarter Theater, invited me to write something for their festival under one theme: Home,” explains Cruz on how “A Park in Our House” began to take shape. “For me, home was Cuba when I was 10 years old, the age I was when I came to the United States. I sent them a monologue: ‘Madrigal,’ which is now at the center of the story.” Then they asked him if he would add more characters, and he said “Yes.”
“In all my work, there is always something personal, even in an indirect way,” says the author. “But this play is very autobiographical: there are characters like me in 1970, the mute child, for example — I was not mute, but I was absorbing everything happening around me. I felt a certain fear of vulnerability when writing something autobiographical. I wouldn’t say fear, per se — it was feeling exposed, and perhaps that’s why I had evaded the topic. With ‘A Park in Our House,’ I went in”.
As a pedagogue, Cruz has taught playwriting at Yale, Iowa, and Brown universities. He mentions the case of one of his students, an Iraqi girl who had lived through the experience of war and felt that she was not able to write about the subject. “I suggested to her to do it little by little, indirectly at first, and I could understand her because that’s what happened to me.”
Among the six characters in “A Park in My House,” Ofelina is the one responsible for keeping the family balanced amid everything, says Cruz. “But sometimes, she also looks for a way to escape that reality. She is inspired by women in my life, like my mother, grandmother, and even one of my sisters. They were fighting women because working men were people already damaged by the system.”
Ofelina is played by actress Grettel Trujillo, who in 2004 played Conchita, the protagonist of “Anna in the Tropics,” when it was onstage for the first time in Spanish in New York. Here in Miami, Trujillo joined the casts of other works by Cruz in 2006 and 2013: Sofia in “Two Sisters and a Piano” and Luciana in “Hortensia and the Museum of Dreams.”
“Ofelina is the type of character that any actress dreams of. Vibrant and optimistic, tender, earthly and simultaneously dreamy, full of transitions,” explains Trujillo. “It is in the tradition of great female characters of Cuban Theater such as Luz Marina from ‘Aire Frio’ by Virgilio Piñera. It’s very curious that an author who came to the United States as a child and lived here most of his life has captured that spirit of the Cuban woman so well”.
Cruz believes that women are braver than men.
“Maybe I’m saying that from my own experience; my father was a man marked by the system,” says Cruz. “He was in prison, and that has greatly nourished my work, especially with the male characters.”
Considering how often he directs productions of his own plays, what methods does he employ to work with actors, if any, to direct them? Cruz remembers that he began his career in theater as a director, not as an author.
“You have to be very patient with the actors; you have to give them space so that they can explore the characters,” he responds. “The playwright as a dictator when going to direct his or her own plays does not work. You must be willing to see it through new eyes, and you need to undertake a completely different task. It’s a different responsibility with the piece because you want to get certain things out of the actor, but flexibly, not rigidly”.
When he and Alexa Kuve, the founder and executive producing director of Arca Images, were trying to decide which one of his plays they would stage, he sent her the text of “A Park in Our House” without rereading it. “More than 20 years after writing it, I came to listen to it in the reading session with the actors here in Miami. I wanted to see it through new eyes as if it was not my work.”
WHAT: Spanish premiere of Nilo Cruz’s “A Park in Our House,” in a production by Arca Images.
WHERE: Miami-Dade County Auditorium On.Stage Black Box Theatre, 2901 West Flagler St., Miami.
WHEN: 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 9, Friday, Nov. 10 and Saturday Nov. 11, 5 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 12. In Spanish with simultaneous English translation. Following Sunday’s performance, there will be a bilingual Q&A with the author, the producer and the actors.
COST: $30, $25, students, seniors and groups.
INFORMATION: Tickets can be purchased at www.arcaimages.org and at the theater box office on the same day of each performance.
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